Through a $5,000 grant from the Rohnert Park Foundation, the Rohnert Park Health Center (RPHC) will be able to expand their school-based dental program in the Cotati Rohnert Park Unified School District this year, ensuring that all children in the community receive proper dental screenings, check-ups, preventative education, and if needed, access to restorative and emergency treatment services.
“The Rohnert Park Health Center provides comprehensive primary care and dental care services to southern Sonoma County, including Rohnert Park,” says Pedro Toledo, Chief Administrative Officer of the Rohnert Park Health Center. “We’re open to anyone in the community. We accept all insurances except Kaiser for right now. We also have a sliding fee scale program if folks don’t qualify for coverage or don’t have coverage.”
The organization’s school dental program was first started in Petaluma less than ten years ago when the health center realized that many of the children in the community were suffering from dental diseases that are almost completely preventable. When they initially started the program they were referring about 250 children per quarter to oral surgery. The children had so many cavities that it required general anesthesia to repair them. After a few years of providing preventative care and education in the schools, that number has dropped dramatically to about four children last year that needed to be referred to oral surgery. RPHC now hopes to obtain the same results in Cotati and Rohnert Park.
“We have a special relationship with the Cotati-Rohnert Park School District,” says Toledo. “We go to the various elementary schools in Rohnert Park and Cotati and deliver, via mobile equipment, dental services whether it’s screenings, cleanings, or some minor treatments at the schools. We go classroom by classroom in each school.”
The services are largely prevention focused, ensuring that children receive at least two proper cleanings per year, fluoride treatments if approved by parents, education on proper brushing and flossing techniques and sealants to prevent cavities. Parents provide consent to treatments prior to the RPHC visits. Offering these services at the school sites ensures that all students have access to dental care and provides a convenience to parents, especially those who work during the day.
If more extensive treatment is needed, the students are referred to the clinic, located above the Kaiser offices on State Farm Drive. Part of the grant money will help offset the out-of-pocket costs associated with restorative and emergency treatment services offered to students.
“When we first came to Rohnert Park in 2015 and opened with our 15 dental chairs, we were seeing dozens of kids who needed to be referred out to oral surgery and general anesthesia,” says Toledo. “It’s still higher than we’d like in Rohnert Park since we’re so new. We’ve only done this about two and a half years here and there are still a lot of folks that are establishing care with us. In Petaluma it took us eight years to get to where we are now. In Rohnert Park it will probably take a couple more years before we see the numbers go down.”
Toledo hopes that in the future the school-based dental program can also be expanded to include local middle and high schools and hopes to one-day offer optometry services in the schools as well.
“Our goal is to improve the oral health status in the whole community, starting with kids,” says Toledo. “We want them to have a good start in life so they can focus in school and be able to learn and be able to concentrate in class and do well. And then when they’re teenagers and adults we’re hoping they’ll have a good oral health foundation.”